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Camp Gabriels prison finds no takers (Photo Source:  Save Camp Gabriels website)
Camp Gabriels prison finds no takers (Photo Source: Save Camp Gabriels website)

Tangle of rules slows Gabriels prison sale

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Yesterday we heard that Governor Andrew Cuomo is talking again about downsizing the state's prison industry.

The North Country has eighteen state correctional facilities, which provide thousands of high-paying jobs.

Local leaders say finding new uses for mothballed prisons will be difficult.
The state has struggled for nearly two years to sell the Camp Gabriels prison,
which closed in 2009.

As Brian Mann reports, prisons inside the Adirondack Park are tangled up in legal questions involving the state constitution and the APA's zoning rules.

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New York's Office of Governmental Services tried to sell off the former Camp Gabriels prison for a price tag of $950,000.

But an auction last November produced not a single bidder.

State Senator Betty Little says one reason for the lack of interest was that potential buyers weren’t sure what uses would be allowed on the 92-acre property by the Adirondack Park Agency.

"I had called in early October and talked to Terry Martino trying to get some determination before the bids went in for the auction, and we were not able to get them then," Little said.

But now the APA has issued a formal letter declaring that if sold to a private owner the property would be classified as "moderate intensity," a designation which would allow one new home to be built on each 1.3 acre parcel.

That means up to seventy-one houses could be built on the property.

The former prison sits in a relatively developed area in the town of Brighton and there are already 48 structures on the property.

In the letter, dated December 17, the APA argues that new construction in the area would "not significantly harm the relatively tolerant physical and biological resources."

Brighton town supervisor John Quenell said the APA's designation could help local leaders who are trying to market the property.

"Well,certainly it would compared to the current status where it is rated as 'state administrative,' which really doesn't permit anything for a private owner," he said.

Still, Senator Little says she wants more dialogue with the APA in an effort to win a more flexible designation, one that allows greater local control of the land.

"I deally in terms of the potential use, I think a 'hamlet' designation would be best. The property does have its own sewage treatment facility and its own water treatment facility."

The town of Brighton plans to hold a meeting on January 26th to brainstorm ideas for the land.  Quenell says a committee was organized last year to help market and redevelop Camp Gabriels.

"The problem is trying to find someone who will enact those ideas and who will move forward and develop the property.  It's been a struggle so far."

Quenell said that lack of an official APA designation has been a hurdle.

Camp Gabriels has come to be seen as a kind of symbol by local leaders fighting against more prison closures in the Adirondacks. 

Tom Scozzafava, from the town of Moriah where a similar work-camp style prison is located, says finding new industry to use old corrections facilities has been a nonstarter.

It's almost impossible to bring light industry or manufacturing into the Adirondack Park," Scozzafava said.  "That's not a situation we created.  That's a situation that the state of New York has created."

But while local leaders scramble to find new uses for Camp Gabriels, and for the Lyon Mountain facility that’s now being mothballed, some environmentalists say the land shouldn’t be sold at all.

Dave Gibson is with the green group Adirondack Wild.

"The fact the state now wants to treat this as any...surplus piece of disquieting," said Dave Gibson, with the green group Adirondack Wild. 

"I think it should worry people, that's not what should be happening.  There should be a discussion of its future and that should inform a constitutional process."

Gibson is convinced that the land under the old prison camp should become part of the state forest preserve, unless a constitutional amendment is passed – a process that would take two consecutive years of action by the state legislature.

Gibsons says not worried about specific environmental problems at Camp Gabriels – the site is already heavily developed.  But he thinks selling the land would set a dangerous precedent.

"There are a number of non-forest preserve uses and parcels in the Adirondack park which the state must not simply consider suprplus in an economic downturn.  The constitution says you have to go through a process and we take that very seriously," he added.

The APA’s letter establishing the land as moderate intensity use doesn’t mention any of these constitutional questions.  But according to Gibson, any potential buyer of prison land in the Adirondacks could find themselves tangled up in a lawsuit.

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